Ben Kovitz

Ben Kovitz humble graduate student at IndianaUniversity?, study CognitiveScience. Move here from SanFrancisco great city, after working PalmInc on Pre. Him witness OmnigonInternational from inside, both shame and glory, then learn heap good math. Before that, him work on CORBA ORB for embedded systems at Vertel. Ben work long time ago on parsers, compilers, languages. Him also once work as technical writer, later as developmental editor for ManningPublications? company.

Don't worry. In person, not sound like Tonto.


Ben is responsible for the wiki prefix in the biggest encyclopedia ever

Ben Kovitz is the one who suggested to Larry Sanger, Nupedia's editor-in-chief, to transfer the online encyclopedia to a wiki support! Larry and Jimmy Wales accepted and from that time, Wikipedia took over Nupedia and became a huge success!

Read this: (copied from

Wikipedia was founded as a feeder project for Nupedia, an earlier (now defunct) project founded[citation needed] by Jimmy Wales to produce a free encyclopedia. Nupedia had an elaborate multi-step peer review process, and required highly qualified contributors. The writing of articles was slow throughout 2000, the first year that project was online, despite having a mailing-list of interested editors and a full-time editor-in-chief, Larry Sanger.

During Nupedia's first year, Wales and Sanger discussed various ways to supplement Nupedia with a more open, complementary project. Wales has claimed that Jeremy Rosenfeld, a Bomis employee, introduced him to the concept of a wiki. Independently, Ben Kovitz, a computer programmer and regular on Ward Cunningham's wiki (the WikiWikiWeb), introduced Sanger to wikis over dinner on January 2, 2001. Sanger thought a wiki would be a good platform to use, and proposed on the Nupedia mailing list that a UseModWiki (then v. 0.90) be set up as a "feeder" project for Nupedia. Under the subject "Let's make a wiki", he wrote:

“ No, this is not an indecent proposal. It's an idea to add a little feature to Nupedia. Jimmy Wales thinks that many people might find the idea objectionable, but I think not. (…) As to Nupedia's use of a wiki, this is the ULTIMATE "open" and simple format for developing content. We have occasionally bandied about ideas for simpler, more open projects to either replace or supplement Nupedia. It seems to me wikis can be implemented practically instantly, need very little maintenance, and in general are very low-risk. They're also a potentially great source for content. So there's little downside, as far as I can determine.”

Read the record of the Tacos conversation between Ben and Larry here:

Well, thanks Ben for your suggestion to Larry Sanger. You put wikis on the map with your excellent suggestion!

Could we then say that Ben is one of the three Wikipedia founders? One of the Three stooges? Surely.

[For the record, Jimmy Wales officially asked Ward the permission to use the word wiki. Ward kindly accepted and added that since he never recorded Wiki as a trademark, anyone could use it. Why isn't this episode also recorded in the History of Wikipedia?]

It should be! -- BenKovitz

I don't actually recall Ben saying, "You should use a wiki for your new project" or anything like that; it didn't happen quite that way. I have a fairly clear recollection on this precise point: when we had dinner, Ben was just talking about the latest geeky thing he was up to: wikis! It was not long after he merely described the concept of a wiki that I was thinking that it might be the tool that would do the job. We definitely talked about the notion of a wiki encyclopedia, once he explained his wiki hobby to me and I explained my encyclopedia-building problem to him, but I was never of the understanding that Ben said, "Here is the solution to your problem," whereupon I said, "Yes, that's it!"

Jimmy Wales never asked Ward Cunningham for permission to use the word "wiki," to my knowledge. [Jimmy telephoned me once and asked if I had any plans to protect the name wiki. I said no. He said good. -- WardCunningham]

I was managing the project, not Jimmy, who was busy being CEO of Bomis at the time. Perhaps what the person above has in mind is this little exchange, which can still be seen on the WikiPedia page:

"My question, to this esteemed Wiki community, is this: Do you think that a Wiki could successfully generate a useful encyclopedia? -- JimboWales"

"Yes, but in the end it wouldn't be an encyclopedia. It would be a wiki. -- WardCunningham"

To which I responded:

"Indeed, Wikipedia has a totally different culture from this wiki, because it's pretty single-mindedly aimed at creating an encyclopedia. It's already rather useful as an encyclopedia, and we expect it will only get better."

Anyway, Ben told me about wikis. Yay Ben!

-- LarrySanger

More wikis

I've written a wiki (the Green Light Wiki, because you have the green light to edit) and started a few wikis about some odd topics:


Yo, Ben? You might want to explain to Green Light visitors that the cookies are necessary to edit and what other conditions have to be met. I reflexively deny cookies to all servers except the ones I absolutely have to use, so I couldn't participate. Oh, well. -- MartySchrader

Thanks, Marty. I'd love to have your participation, even without your name showing up in Recent Changes. I'll try to set it up so cookies are optional, once I finish adding change bars. (Actually, it worked that way up until two weeks ago.) -- BenKovitz

Favorite WikiQuote:

Here are some Wiki pages that I've started and that I'd like you to improve:

Others that I didn't start, but have poured some passion into:

Very fine piece about the ElectoralCollege. Bravo! -- OleAndersen

There's been some noise on NPR and in other locations about how ThomasJefferson was elected by "Faithless Electors". -- DanHankins

I don't think it's possible under any scenario for a sitting Vice President running for President to cast a tie-breaking vote for himself. It isn't clear the Vice President has the power to break a tie vote in the Senate for that purpose. More importantly, if the Electoral College is deadlocked, the House votes for the President and the Senate votes for Vice President, and so the sitting VP would possibly break a VP tie, not a Presidential one. -- EricJablow

Thanks! :)

I knew that Jefferson got elected by the House of Representatives, but I hadn't heard about FaithlessElectors? getting him there. Yet more neat stuff to research. Has anyone written a book on the history of American presidential electoral hijinks?

About the rules not being clear about what happens when the House fails to elect a president -- yep, they're not clear. I heard the thing about Gore being able to cast the tie-breaking vote for himself from some knowledgeable-sounding person on NationalPublicRadio. The 12th Amendment does not even seem clear about whether the House that elects the president is the current House or the newly elected house. The FoundingFathers were not good TechnicalWriters.

In 1800, the year of the Jefferson-Burr race, the rules were different: the man who got a majority of the electoral votes became President, and the second-place vote getter became VP. Unfortunately, Jefferson and Burr split all the votes equally. The House voted many times until one of Burr's electors defected.

There was an interesting case in 1968, when George Wallace ran as a third-party candidate, hoping to get enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House. Wallace hoped to be able to shut down racial integration efforts by making deals with one of the other candidates. The US author James Michener, one of the slate of Democratic electors from Pennsylvania, tried to make deals with both Democratic and Republican electors to arrange that they'd vote for the leader if he had only a plurality, in order to avoid letting Wallace influence the outcome. This became moot when Nixon won a majority on election day.

Oh, and the House that would elect the new president would be the newly-elected one. The new House and Senate, after swearing in the new members on 4 January, opens and certifies the ElectoralCollege count; if no one has a majority, the House starts voting for a President and the Senate a VP. -- EricJablow

Is this the same BenKovitz that wrote "PracticalSoftwareRequirements"? (ISBN 1884777597 ). I tremendously enjoyed that book, and think it has one of the best discussions of "problem framing" I've come across. -- StuCharlton

Yup, that's me. I admit it. Glad to hear you enjoyed the book, Stu! BTW, MichaelJackson has recently written a new book on problem frames. It's just come out. ISBN 020159627X . -- bk

Great! I'll take a look at it. -- SC

Ben, thanks a lot for the big refactoring of BetterSyntacticSugar. I think that I will want to create another page about my idea that easier programming leads to more productivity, so I appreciate your offer of returning the material on that subject. But rather than reuse some of the original Sugar material, I think I should work a bit on having a more clear and concise starting point for that discussion. So feel free to discard your copy of that material. Thanks again for the help. -- ChrisBaugh

Ben, you modified the page on BlahBlahBlah removing the assertion that the CriticalSpirit page was condescending and offensive, and my response to it. I'm not sure why you did that, I am just puzzled because you were not the original author of that assertion. There are so many possible motivations for such a thing (including disagreeing with the original assertion, having an off-wiki consent of the author, agreeing with the assertion but being tired of seeing my name and my not so pleasant style in yet another wiki page, and so on) so I can't just figure out which one, anyway I saved the text just in case, and I was a little curious. Thanks for your contribution to wiki (especially including some disagreements and opinions contrary to mine) and for writing the book. -- CostinCozianu

Glad you liked the book, Costin! About BlahBlahBlah, I took the text out in hope of averting a PissingContest. There's a certain super-nice-nice style of writing that tries to be non-offensively super-accommodating to "all points of view" and ends up backfiring. It's got nothing to do with the "critical" stuff you've posted about, which is actually quite the opposite style. I thought analyzing the two topics on the same page didn't shed light on either. -- BenKovitz

Ben, I got cold feet on the metaconversation comment. I was afraid people might misinterpret the tone, just seeing how everyone's been on edge lately. Glad you liked it though. -- SteveHowell

Oh well. Yeah, I hadn't been on much in a while, and have recently been amazed at how accusatory and offense-taking much of the text is right now. It seems that Wiki has degenerated to Usenet, at least regarding ratio of bile to content. -- BenKovitz

In a more perfect Wiki world, the following would happen:

1. Before introducing any more metacommunication pages to the Wiki, any good reader would read Ben's, which is the definitive page on the subject, in my opinion.

2. One, just one, of our great political thinkers would take the initiative to start a political wiki. For all its alleged faults (too religious? not to this agnostic), Clublet at least establishes the precedent that you can start a separate Wiki while still keeping a thoughtful, active audience.

3. The guy who keeps posting on ReplaceDocumentation would end his little tirade.

4. We'd have more posts like LotsOfScreenShots, CustomizerPattern, and TeleCommuting, where real-life software developers simply weigh in on their feelings about day-to-day software issues, inviting civil community discussion and feedback.

I thought this page was as good as any to put this rant, Ben, but you're welcome to move it to my page or delete it. -- SteveHowell

Most people have less experience with what happens when bitterness is heard without judgement, censorship, or argument. The option to hear seems unthinkable, like opening Pandora's box.

Reciprocally, Ben, I thought the above was just great. -- LaurentBossavit

"Hear Hear"

Hey Ben, up for the WikiSprint on September 6? -- Pete.

Hey Ben:

If you give support to Richard for a wiki, please make it a pre-conditions that he should not steal content from other wikis. He is entitled to copy and paste his own contributions but nothing else without the express permission of respective authors.

He has repeatedly advocated stealing content, not to mention his intellectual dishonesty, so it'd be a shame to do it under your watch. -- CostinCozianu

Hi, Costin. Indeed my own preference is to treat other people's wikis and writing with respect, and not to copy text. I haven't even copied the heuristic stuff that I posted to Why Clublet, even to my heuristic wiki, simply because RichardDrake refused to give permission. I value the cooperative attitude that comes from letting people have control over their own things in this way.

However, I'm just planning to provide the hardware and software for Richard's wiki. It'll be his wiki, not mine. On Richard's wiki, he makes the rules. For that matter, he doesn't need to make any rules; he can rule by whim. If he copies stuff from other wikis, I'm not sure what to do. No doubt some people will be unhappy about this, and no doubt if they raise angry protests, that will make Richard happy and he'll keep doing it and probably crow about it. The only thing I can think of is that if he copies stuff, you and everyone who doesn't like it might simply avoid his wiki. That would turn his wiki into little more than a blog, and would deprive him of the joy of baiting people and seeing them throw fits. There's nothing more boring than an unread wiki, especially to a megalomaniac who rules it. There may be better solutions, though. For the contingent who likes throwing angry fits and would thus be grateful to Richard if he did something bad, perhaps... an AngryFitsWiki?? -- BenKovitz

I wanna thank you for the comments you added months ago to OpenSourceCommunism. This was the first contribution I've made and it was very nice to see your answer. -- AurelianoCalvo

"If you don't like fringe views to be expressed and criticized, then perhaps wiki is not for you." (Ben to anon coward)

In my view, what spoils wiki is insults, edit wars, and ThreadMess'es. I wish you the greatest success with your WikiChangeProposal, Costin. However, my current thinking is that the social norms are the primary factor in making a wiki good or bad. If there is a shared understanding that we are here to write and edit text to be clearer, more attractive, and more persuasive, and thereby explore a wide variety of ideas, then text and on-topic ideas will emerge which are more wonderful than any individual could have come up with alone, and we'll all have a good time. If the shared social norm is that we are here to prevent the expression of bad ideas, and cast shame on people who post them or believe them, then people will be trying to make others back down instead of finding ways to cooperate. That understanding of the purpose of wiki is what leads people to post insults aimed at humiliating people they disagree with, delete or drown out ideas they disagree with, create ThreadMess''es where nearly all the words are accusations that another participant didn't meet some burden of proof or assessments of the other participants' intelligence. I think c2 reached its current decrepit condition because of incivility, not technology. -- BenKovitz

Strongly agreed (with reservations about the final sentence). -- DougMerritt

Doug, I love technological solutions. Let's hear more! -- BenKovitz

I only meant that I think the current state of things resulted from complex causes rather than simple easily separable ones.

Also I have reservations about calling the current state of things "decrepit". I see some positives and some negatives.

But yes, also that technology might help, but that's not to say I have something new to offer on the topic. My limited understanding of Costin's favored approach strikes me as a direction that might indeed assist. But that is irrelevant to WikiWikiWeb itself so long as Ward prefers DoTheSimplestThingThatCouldPossiblyWork over an all-out technological assault on the issues. So I have reservations in that direction too.

Thus my original terseness. Explaining what I meant didn't really yield much, eh? ;-) -- DougMerritt

Ben, your edits on DenialOfService suck. Please stop. I can't be certain it was you but I'm fairly sure you deleted a rebuttal to a whole line of argument and then you proceeded to enshrine that line of argument as fact. And Costin is right, that whole "up and down" the protocol stack is a bunch of crap. -- RK

Ben, Costin's role in life is to kill possibly bad ideas. My role in life is to promote possibly good ideas. As a result, Costin doesn't bother reading what I'm writing, just disparages it. And Dave doesn't bother reading anything period, he said as much, even when he's responding to it. [Really? Where did I say that? -- DV] Now you see your role as the "attractive and convincing presentation of ideas" except which ideas? From your actions, it's pretty clear you're not neutral about it but refer rather either to majority ideas or your own ideas. And that's pretty damned frustrating. Do you seriously think that I should prefer your "attractive and convincing" assassination of my ideas over a threadmess where a few people (notably absent Dave and Costin) might be able to get some inspiration? I think not. And don't presume to put the burden on me, either. -- RK

Please see my remarks at the top of MakeTheClientPay. I have not intentionally distorted any idea you've posted. -- BenKovitz

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